Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Around Taiwan in eleven days

Next entries and videos are about trip to Taiwan.

I went to Taiwan pretty much on good luck. All information, I had is a wall map of Taiwan in English, which I bought at foreign book store near Tokyo central station. My big journey plan was to travel around island with train and bus and possibly visit and stay in more towns as possible. This plain map was not very good guide, but when in Taiwan I bought local guidebooks in Chinese as soon as I got into the new region. These were the best source of information.

Some towns had to be dropped from travel plan, because hotel booking proved to be difficult in smaller places. One reason was that hotels did not put out any information in English on their homepages and second - they don’t reply to e-mails (one hotel did!). Difficult to guess the reason, but I assumed then that not many foreigners travel in Taiwan. More foreigners can be seen in Taipei and especially in Taipei 101, which is major attraction of Taiwan. I opted for youth hostels, because English was understood there. Reservations in Taipei and Kaoshiung - two biggest cities, were ok, nice and easy.

It’s possible to walk in and ask for room in hotel, but then it is recommended to have printed major phrases in both English and Chinese. Then conversation with hotel staff is possible by pointing finger to appropriate phrase on paper. Conversations did happen nicely in such way!

People to whom I met said that they thought I am ether English teacher or an American on business in Taiwan. No, I am neither of them - I am just traveling and enjoying. Then some wanted to know WHY ? Why did I choose to travel to Taiwan ? Why whole of Taiwan ?

As in Korea, sometimes in Kyushu and this time in Taiwan, I observed my small diet – lunch in McDonalds or KFC and for dinner I bought plain bread in seven 11. It proved to be big success and plus extra benefit that I lost some weight. BUT! Even lunch at McDonalds was beneficial in many ways, after seventh or eighth day has passed, entering into and just thinking about going to McDonalds proved to be very difficult (impossible). Good to know that Taiwan also has MosBurger, which gave me much needed variety (they sell hotdogs!).

Other important thing what travelers should know is money exchange. I advise to buy all needed local currency at the airport, right after arrival. It is still possible to do foreign currency exchange inside Taiwan, but for not know reasons I was turned away from several banks, which had sign “foreign exchange” clearly displayed on their front doors. I was only able to sell foreign currency at offices of Bank of Taiwan (I entered other banks on purpose to find out if it’s really true). Besides finding Bank of Taiwan branch, filling form with address and telephone takes time. Every time I had to show my passport and cashier asked me various questions, like - what is my job ? what I do in Japan ? In one word – waste of time for a half a day!

Hotels cost around 500 TWD to 1500 TWD. For 1500 TWD can get true luxury. Those hotels 2000 TWD and above are for foreigners, local people don't pay that much.

Back to the trip – from Tokyo, airplane flew through edge of typhoon. It was shaking at times, but still was bearable. ANA airplane had front view camera, which was interesting to watch during take-off. It was not allowed to switch on when landing in Taipei for not know reasons, but when coming back and landing in Tokyo - views from pilots’ perspective were wonderful. Flying becomes more fun and fun, even ticket prices go up and up.

Video: some moments in airplane, we are passing close to typhoon, but look outside window is clear

When in Taipei, I bought ticket in airport and waited for bus to city centre. Here it is advisable to show needed bus stop on the map or plan to the driver, otherwise he will assume that every passenger is riding to the last stop and he will make shortcuts. (I guess how much driver sticks to route also depends from bus company. When we arrived - driver called that stop aloud and I was sure to be in right place even in night time)

That’s all what’s needed – some money and accommodation. Now, its time to see around Taipei.

Expat in Taiwan - probably has the best information about Taiwan in English language. I go some information from this blog before going.

1.Day - in Taipei, its good to spare one day in capital before going into country
2.Day - Hualien, train to, foreign tourists come to Hualien and its easy there
3.Day - Taitung, bus to, I wished for more days there to talk with people
4.Day - Kaohsiung, train to, here I took slowly and needed more days
5.Day - Kaohsiung
6.Day - Tainan, train to and back, could not find hotel, so reverse trip back to Kaohsiung, which is also my recommendation
7.Day - Taipei, train to
8.Day - Taipei, I really wished to spend more days in Taipei county

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